Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 2009. Over 9 million people visit the park each year, making it the most visited park in the United States. There are 78 historic buildings in the Park, which is open year round. Spanning the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee, the Park is a popular destination for hikers. The Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



Brief History

People have lived in the area which makes up the park since prehistoric times. By the late 1700s, white settlers found the area inhabited by Cherokee Indians. The Cherokee were forcibly removed from the area in the 1830s. The park was created when the land was purchased from money raised by individuals, private groups, school children and from trust funds. Over 1,200 land owners had to leave the Park when it was purchased. Elk once roamed free in the Smokies but were over-hunted in the 1800s. In 2001 a program started to re-introduce elk and other animals and birds to the Park.




On high peaks, up to 2,500 mm of rain can fall in a year. The average rainfall over a year is around 1,400 mm. In winter, snow blocks a number of the roads which are closed for the season. The summer season brings heat, haze and humidity with temperatures in the 30-35 °C range during the day, dropping to around 15-20 °C at night.



Sights and Activities

The peak season for visitors is mid June to mid August and all of October. At these times, the Park can be crowded in places.

Visitor Centres

There are three visitor centres, at Cades Cove, Oconaluftee and Sugarlands. Free maps of the park are available and the centres are open daily. Each centre has an exhibition area, public telephones and restrooms.


The park is home to 1,500 black bears who can often been seen in open areas such as Catalooche Valley and Cades Cove. Deer, wild turkeys and foxes are found at Cades Cove. Over 10,000 species have been identified as living in the Park, with the expectation that another 90,000 remain to be found.

Main Areas of Interest

  • The Appalachian Trail, or the A.T., is a 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometres) long hiking trail with a section in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
  • Cades Cove is a lush valley surrounded by mountains. Historic buildings, wildlife and bicycling.
  • Catalooche is located in some of the most rugged mountains in the southeastern USA. Accessed by winding gravel roads which can be a challenging drive. Elk and historic buildings feature.
  • Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the park and in Tennessee. An observation tower provides spectacular 360 degree views.
  • Deep Creek with streams and waterfalls, hiking and mountain bikes are the main features for this area.
  • Fontana Dam stands at 480 feet (150 metres) the dam backs up into Fontana Lake, where there are opportunities for boating and fishing.
  • Mountain Farm Museum is located at the Oconaluffee visitor centre, there is a collection of log buildings, an applehouse and smokehouse.
  • Mingus Mill is half a mile from the Oconaluffee visitor centre, this historic mill features a water-powered turbine.
  • Newfound Gap is a 3,000 feet (900 metres) road climb across the park, up into the clouds.
  • Roaring Fork is a narrow five mile drive through the forest past historic buildings and mountain streams.



Opening Hours

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Access to some roads will be restricted by weather conditions and in the winter.




Entry to the Park is free.

There are activity fees, including $14-23 per night for a camping permit.



Getting Around

There are over 380 miles (600 kilometres) of roads in the Park. Most roads are paved, but there are a number which are gravel. Roads tend to be narrow and there is a 35mph (55 kilometres) speed limit in place, sometimes less. Road conditions change quickly with the weather, which can sometimes close certain roads for a short period. Some roads are closed in the winter and others require snow chains or four wheel drive vehicles. There are no gas stations inside the park, the nearest being in Cherokee, Gatlinburg and Townsend.



Getting There

By Train

There are no trains within easy reach of the Park.

By Car

There are three main road entrances to the Park.

Cherokee, North Carolina entrance

  • From the north: From Interstate I-40, take exit 27 to US-74 towards Wainsville. Turn onto US-19 to Cherokee. Turn north onto US-441 which takes you to the park.
  • From the south: From US-441/US-23 north, at Dillsboro merge to US-74/US-441 north. Take exit 74 to US-441 through Cherokee to the park

Gatlinburg, Tennessee entrance
From Interstate I-40, take exit 407 to SN-66 signposted Sevierville. Continue to US-441 south through Sevierville and Pigeon Forge to the park.

Townsend, Tennessee entrance

  • From the north: From Interstate I-75 take exit 386B to Maryville. Take the US-321/TN-73 through Townsend to the Park.
  • From the south: From Interstate I-75 take exit 376 to I-140 towards Maryville. Take US-129 at exit 11a towards Alcoa. Turn onto TN-35 and follow to US-321. Follow US-321/TN-73 through Townsend to the Park

By Bus

The park is not served by public transport. There are several commercial services from Knoxville TN and Ashville NC which serve the park.

By Air

McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) in Tennessee close to Knoxville is around 45 miles (70 kilometres) from the Gatlinburg entrance. Ashville Regional Airport (AVL) is around 60 miles (100 kilometres) to the east of the Gatlinburg entrance.



Eat and Drink

Limited food and drinks are available in the park. The Cades Cove Campground Store has a snack bar which serves hot and cold food. There are vending machines at the three visitor centres and at the Elkmont Campground and the Smokeridge Riding Centre. There are limited camping supplies and groceries at some of these locations.




There are no hotels or motels in the park. There is a lodge site with cabins. It is only approachable by foot/hiking in. Reservations required. fee


There are ten separate developed campgrounds in the park designed for trailers and motorhomes. The campgrounds at Cades Cove and Smokemount are open year round, with the other having different seasons.

Backpack Camping

Hikers and backpackers can camp can choose from a campground, an approved shelter or finding a place on the trail. Any form of camping requires a permit purchased in advance of setting up camp. There are significant fines imposed for camping without a valid permit.

Horse Camps

These small camps are available for up to six people and four horses. There are eight locations and advance booking is essential.



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Great Smoky Mountains National Park Travel Helpers

  • josephmcelroy

    I was born and raised in Haywood County, NC where my family has resided for over 300 years. Some of the most beautiful parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are in Haywood County (like Cataloochee Valley). I own a lodging place (meadowlark motel) in Maggie Valley, NC so I know a lot about the destinations in and around the Park. I also own a listing site called to promote the Smoky Mountains as a destination. For WhereTraveler magazine I am creating a destination hub about the Smoky Mountains on their website.

    Ask josephmcelroy a question about Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This is version 8. Last edited at 11:25 on Mar 27, 17 by Utrecht. 9 articles link to this page.

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